Monday, November 14, 2011

Beauty and ingenuity ...

... The University Bookman: Herrick and Donne and the Problems of Modernist Poetics. (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

The poet of beauty and sublimity is like a tour-guide, who wishes to direct the attention of the reader to some wonderful object in the world, with just the right words and gestures. The poet of ingenuity is like a street-performer, who wishes to draw the attention of the reader away from the world towards his own extravagant performance. Or to employ a somewhat more impressionistic comparison, the pleasure derived from the poetry of beauty and sublimity is akin to the pleasure derived from observing a sunrise, whereas the pleasure derived from the poetry of ingenuity is akin to the pleasure of completing a puzzle. When critics have referred to the delight afforded by poetry, they have been referring specifically to the delight which originates in beauty and sublimity, since that is the only form of delight by which we are truly moved. We might sum up the consensus of our critical tradition in the affirmation that poetry is a thing like a sunset, and not a puzzle.

1 comment:

  1. It's an interesting article. The best thing about it is the distinction made between poetry-of-experience and poetry-of-ingenuity, which is nicely stated here.

    However, the connection between the Metaphysical poets and the early Moderns is no new idea, as Eliot himself gave several lectures on this very topic, publishing them later as essays. Using the comparison as a way of condemning Modernism write large, which is the real goal here, is not convincing, partly because the axe being ground is so bloody obvious. LOL

    Seriously, conservative (anti-modern) literary criticism is still protesting against Modernism? Really? That horse has already left the barn, folks. The poems quoted as examples of being problematic don't help the case, as some of them are really quite transparent of meaning.

    Furthermore, I am not even remotely convinced that any of this diminishes Donne's stature, and the attempt to either puff up Herrick to Donne's level, or bring Donne down to Herrick's, is silly. Donne remains the greater poet for the ages, because he contains multitudes.

    Oh well. Nice try. Still, the distinction descriebd here between two major streams of poetry is pretty useful.